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Sew for the Skill of It

Internaional Sewing Month

September is National Sewing Month and this year’s theme is Sew for the Skill of It. We’re always thinking about ways to sharpen our sewing skills and it’s always exciting when we find new ways to celebrate the gift that those skills are.

Recently, word has been spreading about a fabulous reality TV show called the Great British Sewing Bee that has home sewists competing based solely on their sewing skills. The show sprinkles in some interesting historical information and gives glimpses of the contestants’ backgrounds, but the focus is the craft of sewing and how well the contestants execute the challenges, which include following a pattern, making made-to-measure clothes for real people and upcycling a purchased article of clothing. The sewing room is stocked with exquisite fabrics and trims referred to as the haberdashery. The judges are an expert sewing teacher and a Saville Row tailor and the drama comes, not from personality conflicts, but from hoping the contestants will be able to finish the challenges in time. It’s all very civilized and no bleeping is required. Contestants talk about “unpicking” their mistakes (so much gentler-sounding than ripping) and one remarked that a fabric had a mind of its own so she had to “speak to it very firmly.”  Wouldn’t it be great if we had something similar here in the US? A contest like this would be a great addition to ASG’s National Conference, for instance.

Season Two of the Great British Sewing Bee is in the works and the full episodes from Season One can be viewed on YouTube.  Watching is fun, but doing is what we sewing fanatics love best. Let’s all celebrate National Sewing Month by tackling a project that tests our skills, learning or brushing up on a technique that’s gotten the better of us in the past. Do it for the skill of it.

Introducing Sewing Educator Sarah Veblen

We all know that creating beautiful clothes that fit and flatter is an art. It requires talent, skill, a practiced eye and time. Teaching this art requires the ability to break down processes that have become second nature and communicate them in a way the uninitiated can understand, plus a considerable amount of patience and diplomacy. Rarely do we encounter anyone who excels at both. Sarah Veblen is among this rare breed.

If her name sounds vaguely familiar, you may have read one of Sarah’s articles in Threads Magazine. My introduction to Sarah was through her online classes on PatternReview.com. These cover topics such as sleeves, linings, underlining, buttons and buttonholes, knits, wools and sheers. Her class titles use the words “All About” and those classes deliver on that promise. Her written materials are thorough and clear. Her follow-up on the message boards is equally clear and comprehensive. As if that weren’t enough, I am amazed by the fact that she is able to look at pictures students post on the class message board, identify the fit issues and write out suggested alterations to address them. As this is posted, Sarah is putting the finishing touches on her book, The Complete Photo Guide to Pattern Fitting, which is scheduled for publication in January 2012.

Sarah offers an array of classes, workshops and private lessons at her home studio in the Baltimore area, as well as workshops and weekend retreats around the country. We are working on bringing Sarah to the Chicago area soon, and so we thought it would be nice if you got to know a little bit about her in advance. So, here is an introduction to Sarah Veblen, in her own words:

Tell us when and how you got bitten by the sewing bug.

My mother sewed, and when I was in elementary school, I’d play with her scraps and make doll clothes if she had everything out. In ninth grade, I started sewing some clothes for myself, more experimentation than following a pattern. But in high school, I started to sew using patterns. Because of a move that my family made from one state to another, I never had home economics. When I asked my mother about my learning to sew, she said she never really taught me, but that I just started to sew. In her words, “You were sewing circles around me by the time you were finishing high school.” Sewing just made sense to me. I’ve always loved working puzzles, and to a large degree, sewing is nothing but a big puzzle.

After college, I was working in the Boston area as an executive secretary and office administrator, and I needed a better wardrobe than what I had worn in college. Because I was interested in sewing, I started to make more and more of my own clothes. One of my new friends in the area also sewed, and she and I would pour over pattern books and shop for fabric together. Having a friend who liked to sew helped to keep me interested as well. It was then that sewing became a passion. Lots of my spare time was consumed with sewing clothes for myself and friends. I just loved the process and couldn’t stop!

How did you learn sewing, patternmaking and design? How did you get your start designing and sewing custom clothing?

It’s hard to answer these two questions separately, so I’ll talk about them together.

Fast forward about ten years, and after several moves and getting married and having my first daughter, I was living here in the Baltimore area. My friends were really impressed with the clothes I was making for my daughter and encouraged me to sell them. I found a local shop that sold handcrafted items, and they were interested in carrying my children’s clothes. However, I knew that I couldn’t use commercial patterns for this purpose, so I developed a few patterns on my own – some of these were based on commercial patterns, but there were such substantial changes to them, I felt that they were legitimately my own. I sold my children’s clothes through two local craft stores and several small boutiques in New York City for quite a few years, doing all my own production.

It was during this time that I had a few inquiries about making custom adult clothing. When I look back now, I can’t believe that I said yes, knowing as little as I did about fitting. But many dressmakers start off by offering the service of just making up a pattern. I realized that I was on a trajectory that I had never before seriously considered – of becoming a custom designer – and that in order for my work to be really good, I needed to learn patternmaking. With my marriage failing and three daughters, I knew I needed to support myself and couldn’t face going back into secretarial work. So I signed up for a patternmaking class at a local community college.

It was the best thing ever! I learned the theory behind what I had been doing by the seat of my pants. I hardly slept the whole semester because I was so excited about what I was learning. I asked my local independent fabric store, A Fabric Place, if they would give my name to people who inquired about local dressmakers, and I started sewing custom clothing in earnest while continuing with classes in patternmaking, draping, and tailoring.

Although the community college’s fashion program barely touched on fitting, I realized through working with clients that fit was of utmost importance – and in fact, that’s why most clients were coming to a dressmaker. I read what I could find on fitting, but the theoretical examples never seemed to really match what happened in real life. One of my new clients had a challenging body to fit: she was barely five feet tall and quite amply endowed. As I fit a muslin of a jacket on her, I remember not knowing if making a change in a certain way was better than doing it another way. So I asked her if I could do some experimenting, and if so, I wouldn’t charge her for the pattern development. I then copied the pattern and altered each set differently, and in the next fitting, I could quickly tell what worked better. I often did this in the beginning of my dressmaking career – had two muslins going for the same client – so that I could better learn how I liked to fit and what gave me the results that I wanted.

As my fitting improved, I realized how closely linked fitting, patternmaking, and design were. For example, there are often times that by introducing a new style line (i.e., adding a seam), I can both improve the fit and make the garment look more flattering. It was really through fitting that I became more interested in design. And as I developed my own sense of design, I became even more interested in fitting. The two definitely fueled each other. And it was my ability to fit and design that made my reputation as a custom clothier.

Thank you for giving us these insights into your journey, Sarah. We look forward to continuing this interview in later posts.

Celebrate National Sewing Month!

National Sewing Month logoSeptember is here! On the one hand it means a melancholy feeling because summer is coming to an end and we’re heading to cooler temps. But on the other hand, September is a CELEBRATION OF SEWING! September is celebrated as National Sewing Month and is co-sponsored by the Sewing & Craft Alliance and the American Sewing Guild.

A Brief History of National Sewing Month

President Ronald Reagan signatureIn September 1982, President Ronald Reagan signed Proclamation #4976, declaring that September as National Sewing Month. The proclamation recognized the tens of millions of Americans home sewists and  “the skill and the self-reliance which are so characteristic of this Nation.” This was followed with successive annual proclamations by President Reagan during his terms. But in 2005, the request for a proclamation was not accommodated. However, even without a Presidential proclamation, September continued to be supported and promoted as National Sewing Month by various organizations.

In  2008, the American Sewing Guild joined forces with the Sewing & Craft Alliance to continue the promotion of National Sewing Month and provide a central location for the distribution of National Sewing Month information and materials to organizations, educators, sewing enthusiasts and anyone else interested in promoting and/or participating in activities for National Sewing Month.

Celebrate With Sewing: Sew For The Love Of It Contest

 Sew For the Love of It logoNational Sewing Month is celebrated with a contest to showcase and encourage sewing creativity and imagination. This year’s theme is “Sew For the LOVE of it!” 

The contest runs through September 30, 2011. Official rules and entry can be found on the National Sewing Month website. Here’s what you should be thinking:

“Show us what YOU love to sew! You choose the project, whether it’s an article of clothing, a toy, something for your home, an accessory, a quilt, or even an item for your car or boat. Whatever you decide to create, show your love with a within the project. It can be heart fabric, a pillow shaped like a heart, heart embroidery, heart-shaped pockets – it’s completely up to you. The item you enter must be hand-crafted and utilize fabric, thread and sewing machine and there MUST be a visible heart somewhere on the project itself. Whatever you choose to sew, just make sure we see the expression of your love of sewing!”

Think about using National Sewing Month in your neighborhood group challenge this month. If you have pictures, be sure to post them to the Members’ Projects album or email me to post them.

Follow National Sewing Month on Twitter

Twitter logo

The National Sewing Month is on Twitter, @sewingmonth. Watch their tweets for daily giveaways and tutorials posted to the National Sewing Month website.

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, @sewchicago. Watch for our special National Sewing Month tweets with the hashtag “#NatSewMo”. We and other sewists around the Twitter-sphere are using the hashtag to share our enthusiasm for sewing!

Sewing With Nancy

Sewing With Nancy

(Image source: Louisiana Public Broadcasting)

Did you know you can watch full episodes of Nancy Zieman’s Sewing With Nancy shows online? From the Wisconsin PBS Station. Yay public television!

 

Visit ASG Chicago at the Original Sewing and Quilt Expo

Hello, ASG members and fellow sewists.

What are you doing the rest of this week? I hope you’re planning to visit the Original Sewing and Quilt Expo in Schaumburg, IL! Stop by the ASG booth to say ‘hello.’

Tina and I spent most of the day setting up the ASG booth and checking out our fellow vendors. There is a very nice selection of fabrics, threads, and notions this year. Also, the ASG asked the Expo to display several garments from challenge winners at the 2010 National Conference in Atlanta. This body of work shows some amazing talent from ASG members across the U.S. Take a few moments to admire these pieces, especially the garments from one of our ASG Chicago chapter members.

In our ASG Chicago booth we also have a few displays of work from members across the Chicago chapter to show shorts, pants, dresses, tote bags, teddy bears, altered ready-to-wear, and more. We’re very proud of the talents across ASG Chicago and hope that showing some of this work will encourage Expo visitors to become ASG members.

The ASG “welcomes sewing enthusiasts of all skill levels and from many different walks of life” (Seriously. It says so on the website.). Because the ASG takes all skill levels, that’s why people can make ear-of-corn costumes or recraft a pair of pants to become a jacket or sew a prom dress for donation. You can be experienced, wildly creative, a strict pattern follower, or even a beginner and you are welcome here.

If you have a friend, loved one, or neighbor who has talked about but never joined the ASG, then now is the time. When someone becomes an ASG member at the Expo his/her name will be entered into a raffle to possibly win tons of really cool sewing stuff valued at more than $200. So, if you encourage a friend to become a member and that friend wins the raffle . . . well, if you’re really good friends maybe you can share!

Hope to see you at the Expo.

Video Tweet Day List

Watching movies clipart from MicrosoftDid you follow the tweets of videos yesterday? Did you follow #vidtweetday or did you follow on the blog? I really hope you liked them; I had a fun time finding various topics and not-the-norm videos.

In case you missed any, here’s a list of all the videos:

  1. Threadbanger’s How to Wet Felt a Beret
  2. The art of tambour beading as done in French Haute Couture Embroidery at Lesage in Paris
  3. The Making of a Chanel Haute Couture Outfit from New York Magazine
  4. VogueFabrics’ Mac Berg shows how to use the stilleto when sewing and pressing
  5. Embellishment With Bias Strips from Sandra Betzina
  6. Haute couture French crochet beading from Corinne Meunier and photos
  7. Bespoke tailoring in U.K.; mobile tailors set up in pubs and the suits are made in Hong Kong
  8. Traditional shibori tying & dyeing
  9. Shingo Sato, extreme pattern making: Transformational Arm-Hole
  10. Francesco the tailor, Italy (I wish there was more to the video)
  11. Julian Roberts Subtraction Cutting by an Indiana University student under Julian’s direction
  12. Japanese kimono maker. I love his foot action and mesmerized by his adept needle-handling.
  13. A two-fer deal: Spoonflower’s tutorial of how to design without Photoshop and creating wall art with custom-printed fabric

I hope you enjoy these videos! I’ll try to do another Video Tweet Day every few months.

You Think You’re Under Pressure to Sew

Most of us have been there: There’s a special occasion and we want to make a special outfit. Visions of grandeur and sophistication at the beginning are reduced to finding how to shortcut…maybe even seeing if you can get your NG members to help hem. Or even Cinderella’s mice and bluebird friends.

Well, the next time you feel you’re in a crunch, here’s an article that might make you feel better. Randall Christensen is the designer of the floaty creations on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.”

Randall Christensen design for Dancing with the Stars

Black lace and red smooth fabric worn by Stacy Keibler dancing the tango. (Image source: Randall Designs website)

“For Randall Christensen and his wardrobe team at ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” the next 10 weeks are going to be a crystal-encrusted, chiffon-wrapped blur.

“Dancing” is known as much for its dazzling costumes as its disco-ball trophy. Every week, celebrity contestants and their professional partners step out in costumes ranging from glamorous to outrageous; from swingy dresses reminiscent of Ginger Rogers and old Hollywood elegance to skimpy spangled hot pants.

Each outfit is one-of-a-kind, handmade and custom-designed with the dancer’s personality, figure and ability in mind. They’re couture pieces, cut and assembled by veteran costumers and seamstresses from fabrics selected specifically for each performance. Every feather wisp is glued on individually, each rhinestone and sequin carefully sewn on by hand. And the entire episode’s attire is conceived of, styled and stitched into reality in about four days.”

Ummm, did that article say FOUR DAYS?! Ok, even with a team of cutters, seamstresses and embellishing pros, that’s still amazing. Wait, there’s more: “…if it’s gaping somewhere, we have to take that dress off, rip the stones off, put a dart in, re-sew it and re-stone it.” RE-STONE IT? Ok, so now I don’t feel as bad when I need to rip a seam back.

seamstresses work on costumes for the show 'Dancing with the Stars,' backstage at the show's offices in Los Angeles

(AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Read the rest of the article for more interesting tidbits. And to think…they have to fit different body sizes, too. Whew! I think I’m tired already.

Check out Randall Designs Gown Archives, which includes some of the “Dancing With The Stars” dresses.

Yellow beaded bracelets used for costumes

Yellow beaded bracelets used for costumes (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

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